My 6-year-old, twin niece and nephew who live with me right now had to transfer schools. Although they’re only in kindergarten, they were so excited their first day at their new school. The day brought memories of my own flooding back. I remember moving from Arizona to Alabama at 10 1/2 years old with my family like it were yesterday. It’s now been 35 years. Wow! My summer of 1985 was full of adventure as we drove five days across many states to get here. The one thing I remember most about our road trip was that I had never seen so many trees in my life. Coming from the desert to me, the trees from Texas to Alabama ran rampant. The only trees I saw in Arizona were fruit trees, oranges, grapefruit, peach, and pomegranate.
In Alabama, the school began in August but because we left in September, we started the school year late. The school systems are different as well. The schools I was used to extending from grades K-12. Alabama schools are separated by grades. Here the K-5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, and 9-12th grades are all five separate schools. The only difference (back then) was that the high schools on the west side of town were 9th-12th grades and 7th-12th on the south side. Alabama is also on a zoning system in which your address controls where you go to school.
In Arizona, my grades allowed me to skip the fifth grade. I was looking forward to graduating from the sixth grade too. So, you can imagine, my first day of sixth grade in Alabama was both terrifying and saddening when I found out there was no sixth-grade graduation here. My older brother and sister were in high school so that meant I was all alone, in a new school, in a new state. When I was given my schedule in the office, they sent me along my way with few directions on how to get to each class and I was lost for a good twenty minutes before finding my first class, Algebra.
Soon I found myself a foreigner in a school full of bigger kids than I ever was. I only stood 5’4 feet tall, was maybe seventy pounds soaking wet and would stay that way until my sophomore year of high school. My mom and all four of us girls proved our Indian heritage with our long black hair, mines stopping an inch below my shoulder blades. My dad made us wear tiny braided styles like those seen on the heads of African children on TV. Although, a popular style in the US now, back then, not one other girl, in a school of over 300 students, wore those braids. I suppose his reasoning was to make us unpopular and therefore a disinterest to boys. And his plan worked well, for a minute anyway.
I thought I was considered ‘weird’ for wearing these 14-inch long skinny braids. Maybe, not so much the braids as the heavy, noisy, colored beads that were hand stranded on each one. At least 50-100 beaded braids were not only a distraction in a quiet classroom but we’re so heavy on my tiny neck that they cause neck and back pain.
If you can imagine me back then, picture this…I had that hair, was slightly tall for my age (just not taller than any other child there), awkwardly skinny, had big feet, man hands, hand me down clothes, and was definitely not from the South. I heard, “Why do you talk so proper?”, all the way through to my Senior year of high school.
But surprisingly enough, my sixth, seventh and eighth-grade years were not extremely horrible. I was so shy and quiet that I only was noticed because I was smart. I had one teacher who did not like me for some reason, Mr. Enock. He fell ill at the end of the year but when he returned he appeared to love everyone. I can’t even remember what he taught but it may have been English. For some strange reason, not for any reason, dangling participles comes to mind. (Get your mind out the gutter💆. I can recall loving to diagram them on paper but hating to go to the chalkboard to do so. Ok, so I was a nerd.
It was difficult to maintain any real friendships because of how the schools were separated. I was just one of 300 sixth graders at a huge school which serviced an entire county. Then, it was hard to find anybody with whom I could keep anything in common. You could be bony, shapeless friends in the seventh grade but see the same girl in the eighth grade, fully developed and popular while I never gained a curve until I was in college. Yes, really!
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